Review: The Knot of the Heart

The handling of David Eldridge’s difficult drama about the trials of addiction is a mixture of highs and lows according to

 

Image: Matt Oxberry

Image: Matt Oxberry

★★★☆☆

Love Arts York Festival

Venue: Friargate Theatre

Anonymous Bosh Theatre Company took on a significant challenge in staging ‘The Knot of the Heart.’ David Eldridge’s drama about the effects of addiction on a privileged middle class family requires depth and subtlety in order to convey its powerful messages. Unfortunately, this care seemed to be missing from the production I watched. During the first half, the text fell flat amidst what seemed overly melodramatic performances that left the actors no room to escalate. This is not to say our performers lacked talent, but they seemed confined both by their script and the repetitive playing styles of the more emotional scenes. Just a little extra care and direction would have greatly benefited the scenes of drug abuse and family conflict, and the dramatic reveals dictated by the script needed more careful handling to avoid soap opera cliche.

It was difficult to empathise with our protagonist Lucy (Anna Rogers); her initial characterisation as a rather spoilt and imperious young woman remained two-dimensional despite the journey of the script, shifting quickly between juvenile pouting and sarcasm to a full-on slanging match, whether she was arguing with her sister or being pushed for drug money as she lay in a hospital bed. True, Eldridge’s character is not designed to be played as a victim who we feel sorry for, but I desperately felt a need for further depth in Lucy’s violent emotional changes. The same can be said for the performances of Jo Wragg as Lucy’s manipulative and overbearing mother, and Clancy McMullen as her brutally cold sister Angela. This was a great shame, and there were many promising hints of a deeper relationship between the different family members and the gruesome co-dependency between Lucy and her mother which were never fully realised.

Involved research into the effects of the drugs featured in the play, would have also benefited the production. It seems unlikely that someone who injected a large amount of opiates into their system within the past few hours would be able to whirl manically around the room or would have the energy for sassy comebacks after being pulled back from the brink of overdose. In a similar vein, the mother’s alcoholism was largely left unexplored beyond her constantly holding a glass of wine despite the potential in the script to cover the emotionally abusive treatment of her daughters as part of her illness. Within the first act of ‘The Knot of the Heart,’ the only genuine exploration of mental health and sense of self seemed to be Angela revealing her ectopic pregnancy, which was played in a highly emotional and evocative way by McMullen.

Anna Rogers was well matched to play Lucy, Joe Feeney delighted in a series of roles which spanned comedy, horror and caring, and the snide and cold exterior which hides Angela’s complex underlying issues was beautifully portrayed by McMullan. Wragg’s performance seemed overly dramatic at several points, acting seemed forced at moments when genuine distress was called for due to the melodramatic playing style she used throughout. It is Jane Allanach’s performance as Lucy’s crisis support worker which has to be truly commended: playing with a subtle naturalism she utterly convinced and charmed her audience. Her opening scene in Act 2 gave us some much needed breathing space following the manic, scattered nature of the first act. This set the precedent for the second act, which, though filled with tense and violently emotional scenes, was much more levelled and was filled with variety and stillness arguably sorely missed in the first half of the show.

Had the first act benefited from this subtlety and variety we would have found it much easier to sympathise with our characters in crucial moments of conflict and redemption. As it was, our performers managed to navigate the dramatic scenes well, despite lacking this earlier groundwork. Rogers played Lucy’s recovery in a refreshing and evocative manner, and the scene where Lucy confronts Angela on her own self-harm was incredibly charged and one of the most poignant moments of the play. Wragg’s ending moment suddenly brought to light the dangers and isolation of her addiction: drinking with visibly trembling hands she stared beyond the past, ruined by addiction and tragic death, and into a future empty of family.

What seems hardest about this play is its odd mixture of lyrical language, almost Coward-esque humour and a contrastingly gritty onstage reality of drug abuse and addiction. After a shaky start, this production of ‘The Knot of the Heart’ was a well-intentioned exploration of addiction and its effects on our relationship with others and with ourselves. With further time for rehearsal, I believe this could be a strong piece of theatre.

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